Twain’s Joan II

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Everytime I read this passage, I am profoundly moved. . . profoundly. Ah, chivalry!

In the train of wains laden with supplies a man lay on top of the goods. He was stretched out on his back, and his hands were tied together with ropes, and also his ankles. Joan signed to the officer in charge of that division of the train to come to her, and he rode up and saluted.‘What is he that is bound, there?’ she asked.

‘A prisoner, General.’

‘What is his offence?’

‘He is a deserter.’

‘What is to be done with him?’

‘He will be hanged, but it was not convenient on the march, and there was no hurry.’

‘Tell me about him.’

‘He is a good soldier, but he asked leave to go and see his wife who was dying, he said, but it could not be granted; so he went without leave. Meanwhile the march began, and he only overtook us yesterday evening.’

‘Overtook you? Did he come of his own will?’

‘Yes it was of his own will.’

‘He a deserter! Name of God! Bring him to me.’

The officer rode forward and loosed the man’s feet and brought him back with his hands still tied. What a figure he was – a good seven feet high, and built for business! He had a strong face; he had an unkempt shock of black hair which showed up in a striking way when the officer removed his morion for him; for weapon he had a big axe in his broad leathern belt. Standing by Joan’s horse, he made Joan look littler than ever, for his head was about on a level with her own. His face was profoundly melancholy; all interest in life seemed to be dead in the man. Joan said –

‘Hold up your hands.’

The man’s head was down. He lifted it when he heard that soft friendly voice, and there was a wistful something in his face which made one think that there had been music in it for him and that he would like to hear it again. When he raised his hands Joan laid her sword to his bonds, but the officer said with apprehension-

‘Ah, madam – my General!’

‘What is it?’ she said.

‘He is under sentence!’

‘Yes, I know. I am responsible for him,’ and she cut the bonds. They had lacerated his wrists, and they were bleeding. ‘Ah, pitiful!’ she said; ‘blood – I do not like it’; and she shrank from the sight. But only for a moment. ‘Give me something, somebody, to bandage his wrists with.’

The officer said –

‘Ah, my General! it is not fitting. Let me bring another to do it.’

‘Another? De par le Dieu! You would seek far to find one that can do it better than I, for I learned it long ago among both men and beasts. And I can tie better than those that did this; if I had tied him the ropes had not cut his flesh.’

The man looked on, silent, while he was being bandaged, stealing a furtive glance at Joan’s face occasionally, such as an animal might that is receiving a kindness from an unexpected quarter and is gropingly trying to reconcile the act with its source. All the staff had forgotten the huzzahing army drifting by in its rolling clouds of dust, to crane their necks and watch the bandaging as if it was the most interesting and absorbing novelty that ever was. I have often seen people do like that – get entirely lost in the simplest trifle, when it is something that is out of their line. Now there in Poitiers, once, I saw two bishops and a dozen of those grave and famous scholars grouped together watching a man paint a sign on a shop; they didn’t breathe, they were as good as dead; and when it began to sprinkle they didn’t know it as first; then they noticed it, and each man hove a deep sigh, and glanced up with a surprised look as wondering to see the others there, and how he came to be there himself – but that is the way with people, as I have said. There is no way of accounting for people. You have to take them as they are.

‘There,’ said Joan at last, pleased with her success; ‘another could have done it no better – not as well, I think. Tell me – what is it you did? Tell me all.’

The giant said:

‘It was this way, my angel. My mother died, then my three children, one after the other, all in two years. It was the famine; others fared so – it was God’s will. I saw them die, I had that grace; and I buried them. Then when my poor wife’s fate was come, I begged for leave to go to her – she who was so dear to me – she who was all I had; I begged on my knees. But they would not let me. Should I let her die, friendless and alone? Could I let her die believing I would not come? Would she let me die and she not come – with her feet free to do it if she would, and no cost upon it but only her life? Ah, she would come – she would come through the fire! So I went. I saw her. She died in my arms. I buried her. Then the army was gone. I had trouble to overtake it, but my legs are long and there are many hours in a day; I overtook it last night.’

Joan said, musingly, and as if she were thinking aloud –

‘It sounds true. If true, it were no great harm to suspend the law this one time – any would say that. It may not be true, but if it is true -‘ She turned suddenly to the man and said, ‘I would se your eyes – look up!’ The eyes of the two met, and Joan said to the officer, ‘The man is pardoned. Give you good-day; you may go.’ Then she said to the man, ‘Did you know it was death to come back to the army?’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I knew it.’

‘Then why did you do it?’

The man said, quite simply –

‘Because it was death. She was all I had. There was nothing left to love.’

‘Ah, yes, there was – France! The children of France have always their mother – they cannot be left with nothing to love. You shall live – and you shall serve France -‘

‘I will serve you!’

‘- you shall fight for France-‘

‘I will fight for you!’

‘You shall be France’s soldier -‘

‘I will be your soldier!’

‘- you shall give all your heart to France -‘

‘I will give all my heart to you – and my soul, if I have one – and all my strength, which is great – for I was dead and am alive again, I had nothing to live for, but now I have! You are France for me! You are my France, and I will have no other.’

Joan smiled, and was touched and pleased at the man’s grave enthusiasm – solemn enthusiasm, one may call it, for the manner of it was deeper than mere gravity – and she said –

‘Well, it shall be as you will. What are you called?’

The man answered with unsmiling simplicity –

‘They call me the Dwarf, but I think it is more in jest than otherwise.’

It made Joan laugh, and she said –

‘It has something of that look, truly! What is the office of that vast axe?’

The soldier replied with the same gravity – which must have been born to him, it sat upon him so naturally –

‘It is to persuade persons to respect France.’

Joan laughed again, and said –

‘Have you given many lessons?’

‘Ah, indeed yes – many.’

‘The pupils behaved to suit you, afterwards?’

‘Yes; it made them quiet – quite pleasant and quiet.’

‘I should think it would happen so. Would you like to be my man-at-arms? – orderly, sentinel, or something like that?’

‘If I may!’

‘Then you shall. You shall have proper armour, and shall go on teaching your art. Take one of those led horses there, and follow the staff when we move.’

That is how we came by the Dwarf; and a good fellow he was. Joan picked him out on sight, but it wasn’t a mistake; no one could be faithfuller than he was, and he was a devil and the son of a devil when he turned himself loose with his axe. He was so big that he made the Paladin look like an ordinary man. He liked us boys from the start, and he liked the knights, and liked pretty much everybody he came across; but he thought more of a paring of Joan’s finger-nail than he did of all the rest of the world put together.

3 thoughts on “Twain’s Joan II

  1. Wow … it actually seems more like a love story, it’s so passionate. Maybe I’ll have to add this to my list of books I want to read someday … after I get through some Dickens novels that I never finished and, of course, the JRRT Trilogy that I’ve shamefully never read. Ahhh … so many books, so little time!

  2. Yes, indeed a love story. Love for Our Lord. Love for the King of Kings. Love for Mankind. A well taught lesson of Compassion and Divine Mercy.
    P.s. is there any connection related to her and Cinderella?

  3. Pingback: Twain’s Joan III « Mary Victrix

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